As the smoke wafted to the ornate ceiling of the foyer, he looked around at the grandeur of the former Johnson & Johnson estate mansion and declared: "Nice house." And there he was, if only passing through, smoking a cigar in it.
Golf remains one of the last outposts of individualism in sports. While the corporate patina of the sport often calls for a certain politically correct attitude and demeanor, golfers control themselves and their destinies. They make their own travel plans, they make their own schedules, they make birdies and bogeys on their own.
More than any other athletes, golfers live the way they want to. That is especially true of players on the Senior PGA Tour, men of 50 and up who have hit a million balls, traveled millions of miles and have made millions of dollars. They are old enough to be themselves. So when you see John Jacobs smoking a cigar in a clubhouse, he's being himself. If you see Jim Thorpe smoking a cigar on the driving range, he's being himself. If you see Walt Morgan swinging a club with a cigar in his mouth, he's being himself. Where there's smoke, there's a spirit afire.
"You know it's probably not the right thing to do, but it's a heckuva enjoyable thing to do," says Jacobs. "I mean, I'm not going to walk into somebody's house and light up. If a club has a no-smoking policy, I don't want to tick off the members. But there's a kind of freedom out here [on the Senior Tour] that if you want to be yourself and smoke, you can. There are still guys who smoke cigarettes out here, too, but cigars are just a lot more visible."
A few players on the regular PGA Tour have also been cigar smokers, but it seemed more of a fad of the mid- and late-'90s, petering out to some very private smokes by only a few players. Rocco Mediate can still be seen from time to time with a cigar on the practice range. Davis Love III maintains a collection. Brad Faxon was a smoker, but a new marriage was reason to quit.
The most visible smoker among the younger players is Darren Clarke of Ireland, who plays primarily on the European Tour and can often be seen with a huge Cohiba before and after a round.
It's the I've-grown-up-and-I'm-free-to-be-me players who have brought visibility to cigar smoking. "It's like it's illegal on the other tour," says cigar smoker Hubert Green. "Those guys who smoke do it in private. Out here, we can smoke if we like. It's not like we're trying to blow smoke in someone's face. But we're grown up and we can do it."
The regular cadre of players who smoke cigars on the Senior Tour includes Jacobs, Morgan, Thorpe, Green, Dana Quigley and Tom Wargo. A few players like Bob Murphy and Gary McCord smoke occasionally, and in doing so pinch a cigar or two from another player's locker, thievery that is delightfully allowed.
The player who brought cigar smoking to the forefront of the Senior PGA Tour was Larry Laoretti, a onetime club professional who won the 1992 U.S. Senior Open. Laoretti was really following in the smoke trails of Charlie Sifford, the longtime cigar smoker with a stern visage that did not seem to attach joy to the act of cigar smoking. Laoretti, on the other hand, is an effusive, outgoing man with a zest for life, who like Sifford, plays golf with a cigar in his mouth, at least several a round. Though Laoretti no longer has playing privileges on the tour, he was the inspiration behind Team Te-Amo, a group of players signed to promote Te-Amo, which currently consists of Laoretti, Wargo, Morgan and Quigley. "I didn't really think of it that way, but smoking a cigar was something that made me different to other people," says Laoretti. "I started doing it in the service. I swing with a cigar in my mouth because I don't want to put it down on a golf course; with all those chemicals they have to use, I don't want to be picking them up. So I got used to swinging that way and it seems strange to me to make a swing without one."
The players who smoke cigars on the Senior PGA Tour are distinct individuals from diverse backgrounds who, in the pursuit of pars and pleasure, have come to enjoy cigars on and off the golf course. Here's a brief look at these individuals, their careers and their thoughts about smoking:
If there ever was a character in golf, it is John Jacobs. This 57-year-old is a native of Los Angeles but a man of the world. He has played golf on every tour around the globe and probably has had more fun doing it than any player in history.
"That's what we play this game for, to have some fun, isn't it?" says Jacobs.
After failing to achieve any real success on the PGA Tour, Jacobs went to play on the Asian Tour and finished atop the money list in 1984. A strapping man of 6-foot-3 and more than 225 pounds, Jacobs can lash a ball and has won more than 100 long-driving championships.
There are tales from the Asian Tour of Jacobs winning bets that had nothing to do with golf, like driving a car down a set of railroad tracks from one town to another to collect $500. When asked about them, Jacobs will say "things get exaggerated." There is a smile on his face when he says it.
As for cigar smoking, Jacobs has a straightforward answer to why he does it: "I like it and besides, cigarette smoking looks fruity." He can usually be found smoking a Davidoff cigar and he also loves Cubans.
"I'm not encouraging others to smoke, but I must get 50 letters a month, from people telling me to stop," says Jacobs. "I think they must be from retired smokers."
Dana Quigley is one of those Senior PGA Tour renaissance stories, a failed touring pro who becomes a club pro who turns 50 and gets himself on the Senior Tour where he hits the jackpot. Quigley won the Northville Long Island Classic in 1997 after earning a spot in the Monday qualifier. He has played in every tournament that he has been eligible for since, racking up six victories and more than $7.5 million, living the life he only dreamed of as a pro on the regular tour in the late '70s and early '80s.
"It's been a ride, hasn't it?" Quigley says with great glee and genuine appreciation for what he has been able to accomplish. "I play every week because I genuinely enjoy playing golf and being around people. Heck, even when I'm home I might play 36 a day with friends."
You can generally find Quigley smoking a Te-Amo product, particularly a Cabinet Selection cigar. He also likes H. Upmann Chairman's Reserve cigars. "We're all old enough out here that we have nothing to lose," says Quigley. "It's 2002 and I don't think you are frowned at for smoking a cigar. I don't advise people to do it but I don't have a problem with it."
As part of the good life he leads, Quigley can often be found around the craps tables and roulette wheels of a casino convenient to a golf tournament site. He bets the number 35 at roulette. It can be amazing how many times it comes in for him.
Jim Thorpe struck gold when he joined the Senior Tour in 1999. His regular tour career, which showed a lot of promise in the early 1980s, was undermined by a series of injuries that sidelined him during his late 40s.
Now, he's won nearly $6 million as a Senior Tour player (see the June 2002 issue of Cigar Aficionado), three times what he won on the regular tour, and is more visible now in his 50s than he ever was.
Nowadays, Thorpe enjoys smoking cigars just about everywhere, from the casino to the practice tee. But before joining the Senior Tour, he was a cigarette smoker for 20 years. He was playing in a Senior event his first year on the tour when he had to withdraw because of illness.
Along with him on that trip was his friend and agent, Mike Lewis. Thorpe lit up a cigarette in the car as they were leaving the club and Lewis reached over and threw his cigarette and the rest of the pack out the window. That was the end of Thorpe's cigarette smoking days.
About a month later he was playing golf back home in Orlando, Florida, when he got the urge, big time, for a cigarette. An acquaintance gave him a cigar and he has smoked them ever since. "I always thought that people who smoked cigars looked a lot more distinguished than people who smoked cigarettes," says Thorpe, who likes all cigars but favors a Partagas. "I don't smoke 'em in my house or in my cars and or in people's faces. But I like them on the golf course. They're something to relax with between shots."
If you think that Walt Morgan would have any trouble competing on the Senior Tour, consider that he has two tours of duty in Vietnam on his service record. He is a soft-spoken man with a kind heart and a steely resolve, and like his idol Charlie Sifford, he plays golf with a cigar in his mouth.
Morgan started playing golf when the Army stationed him in Hawaii. He was 29 when he first swung a club and is completely self-taught. He was a good player in the Army (and a good boxer, as well) but couldn't quite make it on the PGA Tour when he left the service in 1980. So he took a club job in Texas and joined the Senior Tour when he turned 50 in 1991. He credits Sifford with helping him become a successful player, but takes all the credit for himself when it comes to smoking cigars.
"Golf and cigars just seem to have always gone together," says Morgan, the winner of three Senior Tour events. "That's the way I learned to play—swing with one in my mouth because I didn't like putting it down. I don't know how I would play if I didn't have one because I haven't tried it, really. You get to playing a certain way, it's tough to change."
Morgan is a Team Te-Amo member and enjoys the Cabinet Selection and Anniversario Series cigars. "I enjoy them all the time," says Morgan. "I just don't burn them up on the golf course."
Tom Wargo is 60 now and can look back over a long life that didn't begin with a silver spoon or a golf club in his hand. Wargo never even played golf until he was 25, which makes it all the more remarkable that he won the 1993 PGA Seniors' Championship.
Before he decided to pursue a golf career, Wargo was a bartender, an autoworker and an ironworker. He was completely self-taught yet became a dominant club professional player in southern Illinois and was good enough to be voted the PGA of America Club Professional of the Year in 1992. But to beat out Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and the rest of the Senior Tour at the PGA Seniors in 1993 was completely unexpected.
When he joined the Senior Tour a decade ago, Wargo quickly became close friends with Larry Laoretti, whom he had known from his club pro days. It was through Laoretti that he started smoking cigars and became part of Team Te-Amo.
"Larry had this friend in New York, Bob Kelleher, who was really big into cigars and he gave me some really good ones," recalls Wargo. "So I've been smoking them ever since. On the golf course, it's a pacifier thing, you know.
"It calms the nerves. I'm a puffer. I don't inhale. Puffin' on one during a round settles me down."
If you were designing the perfect golf swing, you wouldn't be modeling it after Hubert Green. In the modern era of golf, quick and loopy is frowned upon. But just that sort of swing, combined with a quirky chipping method and an odd putting stance, has led Green to two major championships, a U.S. Open in 1977 and a PGA Championship in 1985. Green has 19 total PGA victories. While you were laughing at the way he swings, he was walking to the bank.
Now Green, 55, is a Senior Tour player and hasn't changed a thing from his regular tour days. He has never been afraid to be different, never been afraid to be a competitor. When he won his U.S. Open at Southern Hills, he played the last four holes knowing that there was a possible death threat against him. When given the choice of not playing, Green shrugged it off just like he did the competition.
He is a confirmed cigar smoker and keeps a well-stocked humidor back home in Panama City Beach, Florida. Green does not smoke a cigar while playing, but looks forward to lighting up one at the end of a round. "It's a pleasurable thing for me," says Green. "Something I can look forward to. Hey, if I play bad I still have something that's pleasurable."
As far as his cigar preferences, he likes Cubans but has wide-ranging tastes depending on who is furnishing them. "Free, I like free a lot," says Green with a smirk. "Maybe not just any old free, but a lot of free."
Robert Lowell is a freelance writer based in New York.